Our quest to walk with Christ compels us to want to be more like Him on the journey. But, staying on the pathway with Christ is not always easy. What can we do to ensure we stay on course throughout our journey?
The answer was illustrated in the close of the 2018 Iditarod, the iconic, annual sled-dog race to Nome, Alaska from Anchorage over almost 1,000 miles of trail. The race is nicknamed “The Last Great Race on Earth.”
Nicholas Petit was leading the race by 2 hours and 43 minutes at mile 777 – three quarters of the way through the race. If Petit continued mistake-free racing, the race was his.
Petit and 11 dogs left Shaktoolik (mile 777) at 1am March 12. Mitch Seavey and Joar Leifseth Ulsom left the checkpoint at 3:43am and 4:48am respectively. Their next checkpoint was in Koyuk (mile 827). Leifseth Ulsom soon moved into second place passing Seavey, but Petit was maintaining a healthy lead.
The trail ahead of him traveled on the ice of the Bering Sea. If there is a dog team ahead of you, your lead dogs pick up their scent and naturally stay on course. But Nic Petit was in the lead. There was no scent to keep them on the trail. It was up to Petit to keep them on course as he had for days.
The long days of very little sleep were taking their toll on each of the mushers. They drive their teams night and day alternating resting and running through ice, deep snow, flowing creeks, and snow-less stretches of trail.
Petit’s team was contending with blowing snow that night as they traveled in the open, unprotected sea of ice — a stretch that is bleak, flat and monotonous according to the race guide. As the trail headed up the coast, Petit’s team ventured off course to the East and he couldn’t find the trail.
The official Iditarod trail is marked with wooden posts. Each post has an orange tip, reflective tape, and blue ribbons tied to them. The posts are not as frequent as lane markers on a highway, but there were about 1000 of them marking this 50-mile stretch. The Iditarod trail was not the only trail in the area. There was an unmarked hunting trail and leftover ribbon-less markers from a February Iron Dog snow machine race in the area.
Petit didn’t realize his sled was on the wrong course until he arrived at land. He knew the trail was supposed to be out at sea much longer than that. So, he turned around hoping one of the trails would intersect with the Iditarod trail. When asked what he said to his dogs when he realized he was off course he said, “a lot of Jee and Haw” (voice commands for right and left) as he looked for the trail. And “good dog” to make sure they didn’t get discouraged.
The 8-mile, 1.5 hour detour was devastating. His dogs slowed way down. As he looked for the trail Joar Leifseth Ulsom, a Norwegian musher, passed him. Petit’s run from Shaktoolik to Koyuk was an extremely long 13 hours and 10 minutes. Leifseth Ulsom completed the segment in 8 hours and 13 minutes permanently taking the lead and later winning his first Iditarod.
Staying on course in our walk with Christ can be equally as difficult. There are stretches where there may not be anyone blazing the trail ahead of us for us to follow and we can feel alone. The signposts marking the trail of God’s will for us may seem miles apart.
Sometimes there are stormy relationships blowing in our face and life’s many urgencies block our vision. We can be weary from the long distances we have already traveled. And some of the trail markers for other teachings may look very similar to the indicators of truth. If we cannot quickly discern the true markers from the markers for a different trail, we can quickly get off course and out of God’s will.
The signposts on our discipleship pathway are essential. They are not the destination, but they mark our course. If we are not intentionally staying on God’s paths for building relationships, serving others, sharing Christ and other important signposts we will not make progress on our journey.
Mushers in a dog-sled race run from checkpoint to checkpoint stopping to check the health of their dogs, the condition of their sled, and to rest. In the same way, followers of Chris need to plan stops on our journey with Christ to check on the condition of our walk with him.
Using the 8 discipleship signposts measured in the Discipleship Pathway Assessment, we can check to see how close we are to where God wants us to be on these biblical markers. Assessing where we are on the discipleship pathway is one way to invest in the next leg of your race.